Prior to this fellowship, I have been moving along my leadership path in a box with walls on all sides of me: walls made up of low self-esteem, poor self-worth, distorted expectations, etc., walls that I am constantly bumping up against. “Someone else deserves this knowledge,” bump. “Why didn’t I learn our language earlier in life?” bump. “I will hold my tongue because I might just stutter or come off like a bitch,” bump. It is sort of a maddening process. And me, at the center of this maddened process, is often the only thing getting in the way of my own progression. I have been conditioned to think that working on my own self is selfish and not time or energy well spent. I have internalized this feeling that I must persist despite my own pain or discomfort -- because my family and community require it. However, through this fellowship work I have been speaking a new narrative, one that prioritizes my own wellbeing so that I can be more efficient, effective, kind, and light-hearted -- because my family and community deserve it. I have been working to “unbox” myself, breaking down and dissolving the walls and barriers to my own path and to my own wellbeing. I have been looking inward and not turning away when it gets uncomfortable. Then, when I get to the point that I become aware of something deeper, more engrained happening, to try and go a little deeper. I have been trying to find those pain spots that have long required protecting but have been acting subconsciously. Then I can decide if that protection still serves me. If not, finding a conscious protection that would serve me better. I have already found myself to be more light-hearted from this process and much less stressed. I talk more kindly to myself and can more easily connect with others without my own issues blurring my perspective. I find myself knowing (quickly and confidently) when to speak up, when my opinion matters, or when butting out is most appropriate. I am much more aware when there is a deeper societal value at play or narrative being spoken that no longer serves anyone. I am also more aware when we as Indigenous people might (unknowingly) be acting from this same dominant Western mindset. There are so many little lessons within our Indigenous way of being – within our language, our oral stories, our elders. There are beautiful teachings all around us, but if my mind is fogged or if my heart is too heavy, I do not notice these teachings. When I am engaged and present, I can digest these lessons and a little bit of healing happens in the process. I can also easily identify the numerous times when the only barrier to excelling/improving/engaging, is me. And I am becoming easier to move out of my own way.
I have also become more grateful of my privilege. I am privileged to be born into a family of strong Indigenous women; women who persevered through impossible life challenges, who set a standard for hard work and responsibility. I am privileged to be born into a thriving nation; a nation that maintains our language and culture, a nation with many leaders both past and present that have spent their lives protecting our way of life and our sovereign status. I was listening to my uncle retell how he spent an entire month in archives to fight a treaty rights case. For an entire month from the moment they opened at 8am to the moment they closed at midnight, he carefully rifled through 200 year old transcripts of treaty hearings for any information that would help our people maintain our rights to hunt, fish, and gather. That story, among other stories of amazing Anishinaabe leaders, built a fire under my butt. I cannot let this box built around me, hold me back – I must be proactive in breaking down these walls so that I do not miss my opportunity to learn from our elders and to give back in my own unique way. I thrive off our culture and language and the wellness that comes from living our way of life. I am most inspired to contribute to the resurgence of our traditional ways by uncovering the evidence (via health research) that Indigenous language/culture and Indigenous wellbeing are one-and-the-same. I want to utilize research in this way so Indigenous peoples across the globe can have even more support to do the same, to live an Indigenous way of life, to live well.
I feel less stressed about what I am going to contribute and how I might leave a legacy behind me and more excited about what I am learning and what is inspiring me in the moment. I feel confident that the inspiration I get from engaging and being present in the moment, will lead me right where I am needed most. I am less stressed about my productivity and the results of my leadership; if I am lucky, this journey is long, and it is the moments of right now that I can enjoy. By enjoying these moments, I am more capable and present to make clear and confident decisions, to speak from the heart, to listen and notice, to connect, and to be inspired. In these moments of presence, there is nothing to be really stressed about. I have found clarity in my purpose and I have learned tools to keep my purpose in the center of my thoughts and actions.
I have learned to treat myself kindly; understanding that if I am not making mistakes, I am not putting myself in a position to grow. I knew that I was a leader before, but I held tight to the image I thought others had of me and the image I thought others had of a “good leader.” I put so much energy into maintaining that image instead of putting all that energy into the growth I wanted for myself. I hid behind my nice face, my friendly smile, my academic achievements, my family connections. I am beginning to come out of hiding and as a result, I can see so much more clearly. I am able to see the leadership all around me, in so many different forms. I feel the importance of releasing that leadership in the masses. I know that I am not a special leader, I am merely one that has had the privilege to unbox herself. As a fellow and forever after, I will keep prioritizing my own wellbeing so that I am able to stay present, to engage, to gracefully make mistakes, to be inspired, and to lead change.